Creem: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine

At the Movies Blog

Drummer Chad Smith holds up his favorite magazine.

This documentary was done in a style that was a lot like Creem magazine. Quick flashes of covers and illustrations that passed the screen quickly. Oh look, Iggy Pop on the cover. Hey, there’s Grace Slick topless. Is that Debbie Harry or Bowie, wait…there’s another photo. Also lots of needle drops: 96 Tears, Gloria, Perfect Day, Playing With Fire, 1969, Give It To Me, and more. And, if you know at least three of those songs, you’ll love this film. 

As a kid growing up in the ‘70s, who loved all these bands, it was the only music magazine to me (I wouldn’t get into Rolling Stone until my college years). And they explain the name being influenced by Rolling Stone. It had a double meaning, from their love of the band Cream, as well as…well…the sexual innuendo). And speaking of sex, there’s a lot of that, as well as homophobic and sexist stuff the magazine had that certainly wouldn’t fly today. But…this was the ‘70s.

The mag started in Detroit in 1969, the year Woodstock was still celebrating the summer of love. They were celebrating the Detroit muscle of their music scene, first covering the locals like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, MC5, and Iggy Pop and the Stooges. 

Director Scott Crawford does a great job with the talking heads (not the band). We get to hear from Wayne Kramer (MC5 guitarist, who did the score), filmmaker Cameron Crowe, Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam), Suzi Quatro (remember Leather Tuscadero?), Peter Wolf (who looked…very disheveled), actor Jeff Daniels, Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group), Don Was, Mitch Ryder, Alice Cooper, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), and artist Shepard Fairey. Ted Nugent has a few things to say, and of course, the hardcore Republican rocker has a dig taken at him by brilliant music writer Dave Marsh at the end. 

Paul and Gene from KISS share a few stories, and one of the female writers gets to join them on stage in KISS makeup. It’s one of the best ways a journalist has ever been asked to do a concert review.

Joan Jett talks about a nasty review, and the letter she wrote that was published while she was in The Runaways

Michael Stipe (REM) shows up, sporting a beard that outdoes David Letterman and rivals ZZ Top. 

I always chuckle when movies nowadays show offices at a newspaper, with clicking typewriters and editors yelling out their office doors (when we know most writers can now work on a laptop from home), but seeing video and still photos of their original offices…are exactly what you think a magazine covering punk and rock would be like. They talk about people sleeping on couches there, and hookers working the streets out front.

Alice Cooper said, “Creem was as synonymous with the rock scene as any of those bands were. It was so much part of our life.”

Drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), who loved the magazine as a kid (but hid it as if it were a Playboy he didn’t want his parents to see), found out the office was only a few miles from his home. He rode his bike over, and saw Alice Cooper leave the building. It’s a shame the magazine was gone before the Peppers were ever big enough to appear in it.

A lot of the writers could get nasty when it came to the bands, or harsh in their reviews. That leads to former El Cajon resident Lester Bangs. He was known for how brutal he could be. I had a love-hate relationship with his reviews. Sometimes they were funny, not even reviewing the record, but just writing non sequiturs that made fun of the artist. That got old quick, though. And (as they mention in the film), it made it more about him then giving the readers a review. Thankfully, the documentary didn’t just focus on him. Dave Marsh, an equally big music writer, has a lot to add; and many of the women involved in the magazine have their say, too. One even regrets some of the sexist captions she wrote for some photos. But as she says — it was the ‘70s.

In one of the documentaries I recently saw on Robbie Robertson and The Band, they talked a lot about the pink house they all lived in together. Who knew that the staff of Creem went from their offices, to all living in a farmhouse, dating each other, and fighting at all hours of the day. Nothing like going to the bathroom at midnight, as one writer tells us, and having the editor talk to you in the hallway about an upcoming piece. Another writer talks about being upset about another’s dog pooping near his desk. Well, he took that poop and put it in that writer’s typewriter. Many times, fights ended with typewriters being thrown out windows. There were lots of typewriters injured in the making of Creem magazine.

It was refreshing that it wasn’t all just glorified. A lot of times you can come away from stories about rock stars, and just think it’s all sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. This deals with some of the negative things, too. I won’t spoil what many of those things are, because if you don’t know what happened, it’s a much more interesting journey (no Steve Perry ref. intended).

I had no idea that the legendary R. Crumb designed their “Boy Howdy” logo. 

I had forgotten about their segment “Stars Cars” which was always fun. Who wouldn’t like to look at the vehicles the rock stars are driving? One of them even posed in front of the car they just totalled in an accident.

Lester Bangs thought he was going out with a bang — spending $12,000 on the company card, throwing a lavish party at a hotel. Watch the documentary to find out what happened with that.

My wife, who keeps telling me how much she hates all these ‘70s rock bands I play, also enjoyed watching this. So…it’s a documentary for everyone (well, probably not the kids).

4 stars out of 5.

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